As­traZeneca’s big MYS­TIC tri­al ends a com­plete fail­ure as Imfinzi/treme­li­mum­ab com­bo flops on over­all sur­vival

Last year, As­traZeneca preached pa­tience af­ter ini­tial da­ta showed its check­point in­hibitor Imfinzi com­bined with their in-house CT­LA-4 drug failed to meet the pri­ma­ry end­point of pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival in a piv­otal lung can­cer tri­al. On Fri­day, that faith proved in vain as the im­munother­a­py al­so failed to im­prove over­all sur­vival in the keen­ly watched MYS­TIC tri­al.

The tri­al test­ed Imfinzi both as a monother­a­py and in com­bi­na­tion with an­oth­er check­point in­hibitor, treme­li­mum­ab, against chemother­a­py in treat­ment-naive pa­tients with stage IV non-small cell lung can­cer (NSCLC), a cru­cial are­na in the bat­tle for check­point drug dom­i­nance.

The phar­ma gi­ant $AZN con­ced­ed Fri­day morn­ing that the com­bi­na­tion — once con­sid­ered a cor­ner­stone of As­traZeneca’s check­point de­vel­op­ment strat­e­gy — ac­tu­al­ly per­formed worse than Imfinzi alone for the over­all sur­vival end­point, with a haz­ard ra­tio of 0.76 for the so­lo drug com­pared to an ane­mic 0.85 for the two to­geth­er.

Sean Bo­hen

While As­traZeneca’s pipeline has of­ten come up short, there have been a string of ma­jor suc­cess­es in on­col­o­gy for the com­pa­ny. This tri­al was con­sid­ered crit­i­cal in putting the brakes on the blitz­ing gains Mer­ck $MRK and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb have made af­ter es­tab­lish­ing their lead in the lu­cra­tive front­line can­cer field. The study was al­so tout­ed by CEO Pas­cal So­ri­ot as an in­di­ca­tor of the British drug­mak­er’s val­ue as an in­de­pen­dent en­ti­ty, when it spurned Pfiz­er’s $PFE $118 bil­lion takeover bid in 2014

In a state­ment on Fri­day, As­traZeneca al­so sug­gest­ed that al­though sta­tis­ti­cal sig­nif­i­cance for over­all sur­vival had not been met, the da­ta mer­it­ed fur­ther analy­sis in ex­plorato­ry sub­groups. That’s not like­ly go­ing to in­spire much en­thu­si­asm.

Brad Lon­car

In MYS­TIC, “CT­LA-4 tru­ly of­fered no ben­e­fit or sig­nal at all”, said Brad Lon­car, man­ag­er of the Lon­car Can­cer Im­munother­a­py ETF. “I would think hard about these re­sults if I was one of the com­pa­nies out there de­vel­op­ing me-too or me-bet­ter CT­LA-4s (of which there are many). Giv­en its tox­i­c­i­ty pro­file and now the emerg­ing com­bo ef­fi­ca­cy we are see­ing in some of these can­cers out­side of melanoma, its win­dow is look­ing quite nar­row.”

As­traZeneca’s shares were al­so un­der pres­sure again on the fail­ure. Its stock is down more than 3% in pre-mar­ket trad­ing. Shares fell sharply last year on the PFS miss, evap­o­rat­ing some $14 bil­lion off the com­pa­ny’s val­ue.

Since that ini­tial set­back on MYS­TIC, though, As­traZeneca scored a big win with its PA­CIF­IC tri­al for Imfinzi, win­ning a sig­nif­i­cant mar­ket niche for it­self in stage III NSCLC. But the fail­ure here will sting, nev­er­the­less.

Chief med­ical of­fi­cer Sean Bo­hen spot­light­ed the suc­cess on the monother­a­py side, but con­ced­ed the key fail­ure:

We are en­cour­aged to see that Imfinzi monother­a­py ac­tiv­i­ty is in-line with that of the an­ti-PD-1 class in pre­vi­ous­ly-un­treat­ed pa­tients with Stage IV non-small cell lung can­cer; how­ev­er, we are dis­ap­point­ed that these re­sults missed sta­tis­ti­cal sig­nif­i­cance. We re­main con­fi­dent in Imfinzi as the cor­ner­stone of our IO pro­gramme and con­tin­ue to eval­u­ate its po­ten­tial in on­go­ing non-small cell lung can­cer tri­als, in­clud­ing Imfinzi and Imfinzi plus treme­li­mum­ab in com­bi­na­tion with chemother­a­py.


Im­age: Pas­cal So­ri­ot. AP IM­AGES

Qual­i­ty Con­trol in Cell and Gene Ther­a­py – What’s Re­al­ly at Stake?

In early 2021, Bluebird Bio was forced to suspend clinical trials of its gene therapy for sickle cell disease after two patients in the trial developed cancer. As company scientists rushed to assess whether there was any causal link between the therapy and the cancer cases, Bluebird’s stock value plummeted – as did those of multiple other biopharma companies developing similar therapies.

While investigations concluded that the gene therapy was unlikely to have caused cancer, investors and the public may be more skittish regarding the safety of gene and cell therapies after this episode. This recent example highlights how delicate the fields of cell and gene therapy remain today, even as they show great promise.

JP Gabriel, Ocugen

JP Gabriel watched from the bleach­ers as the pan­dem­ic raged. Now head of sup­ply chain at Ocu­gen, he's ready to bat

The world was in the middle of the most pressing public health risk his generation had ever seen, and JP Gabriel felt like he was sitting on the sidelines. As a VP of biologics and mRNA manufacturing at Ultragenyx, Gabriel watched from the sidelines as players like Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna used mRNA tech to chase their own Covid-19 vaccines.

This month, Gabriel got the chance to get his hands dirty against the pandemic — but it won’t be with mRNA.

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Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Sen­a­tors to NIH: Do more to pro­tect US bio­med­ical re­search from for­eign in­flu­ence

Although Thursday’s Senate health committee hearing was focused on how foreign countries and adversaries might be trying to steal or negatively influence biomedical research in the US, the only country mentioned by the senators and expert witnesses was China.

Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA) made clear in her opening remarks that the US cannot “let the few instances of bad actors” overshadow the hard work of the many immigrant researchers in the US, many of which have won Nobel prizes for their work. But she also said, “There is more the NIH can be doing here.”

Law pro­fes­sors call for FDA to dis­close all safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta for drugs

Back in early 2018 when Scott Gottlieb led the FDA, there was a moment when the agency seemed poised to release redacted complete response letters and other previously undisclosed data. But that initiative never gained steam.

Now, a growing chorus of researchers are finding that a dearth of public data on clinical trials and pharmaceuticals means industry and the FDA cannot be held accountable, two law professors from Yale and New York University write in an article published Wednesday in the California Law Review.

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Novavax CEO Stanley Erck at the White House in 2020 (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

As fears mount over J&J and As­traZeneca, No­vavax en­ters a shaky spot­light

As concerns rise around the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines, global attention is increasingly turning to the little, 33-year-old, productless, bankruptcy-flirting biotech that could: Novavax.

In the now 16-month race to develop and deploy Covid-19 vaccines, Novavax has at times seemed like the pandemic’s most unsuspecting frontrunner and at times like an overhyped also-ran. Although they started the pandemic with only enough cash to last 6 months, they leveraged old connections and believers into $2 billion and emerged last summer with data experts said surpassed Pfizer and Moderna. They unveiled plans to quickly scale to 2 billion doses. Then they couldn’t even make enough material to run their US trial and watched four other companies beat them to the finish line.

FDA of­fers scathing re­view of Emer­gent plan­t's san­i­tary con­di­tions, em­ploy­ee train­ing af­ter halt­ing pro­duc­tion

The FDA wrapped up its inspection of Emergent’s troubled vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore on Tuesday, after halting production there on Monday. By Wednesday morning, the agency already released a series of scathing observations on the cross contamination, sanitary issues and lack of staff training that caused the contract manufacturer to dispose of millions of AstraZeneca and J&J vaccine doses.

Brad Bolzon (Versant)

Ver­sant pulls the wraps off of near­ly $1B in 3 new funds out to build the next fleet of biotech star­tups. And this new gen­er­a­tion is built for speed

Brad Bolzon has an apology to offer by way of introducing a set of 3 new funds that together pack a $950 million wallop in new biotech creation and growth.

“I want to apologize,” says the Versant chairman and managing partner, laughing a little in the intro, “that we don’t have anything fancy or flashy to tell you about our new fund. Same team, around the same amount of capital, same investment strategy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But then there’s the flip side, where everything has changed. Or at least speeded into a relative blur. Here’s Bolzon:

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Covid-19 man­u­fac­tur­ing roundup: Mary­land looks to grow biotech ca­pac­i­ty with $400M check; Rus­sia lands sec­ond Sput­nik V part­ner this week

A Maryland real estate project has added three new biotech-focused manufacturing and research buildings to an office park to keep up with demand created by the pandemic, the Washington Business Journal reported.

The Milestone Business Park — located off of I-270 in Germantown, MD — will see the new buildings and a total of 532,000 square feet as the campus rebrands to Milestone Innovation Park.

Jenny Rooke (Genoa Ventures)

Ear­ly Zymer­gen in­vestor Jen­ny Rooke re­flects on 'chimeras' in biotech, what it takes to spot a $500M gem

When Jenny Rooke first heard of Zymergen back in 2014, she knew she was looking at something different and exciting. The Emeryville, CA biotech held the promise of blending biology and technology to solve a huge unmet need for cost-effective chemicals — of all things — and a stellar founding team to boot.

But back then, West Coast venture capitalists didn’t see in Zymergen the one thing they were looking for in a winning biotech: therapeutic potential. Rooke, however, saw an opportunity and made her bets. Seven years later, that bet is paying off in a big way.

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